I’m beginning to think that life is just a series of ridiculous challenges. Trying to do something but in order to do it you first need to do something else. This means you have to do a bunch of other things too, things you never though you’d do. I never thought I’d put my kids in care. No matter the cost, I’d manage to keep my kids with me until they started school. I didn’t do too badly in that the Dude was never in care. Thumper got her first year with me.
Coming to Canberra, we knew we could earn solid pay. We didn’t think much about the cost of daycare. But we should have. Getting our jobs was one thing, and happened so fast, as I wrote about before, so we needed fast daycare as well. We were fortunate enough to find someone who could do the week for both kids in family daycare. It wasn’t the perfect situation, but it may just work and at least it was there. So we signed up and agreed to start them on Wed. Little did we think that the cost would be far beyond what we could possibly afford.
To top it off, neither of the kids wanted to go. The daycare lady had a rather old, dark, cold house and lots of outdated toys. She didn’t speak great English which was a challenge but not the end of the world. I think the kids just didn’t gel with her. The Dude has been getting progressively more and more bored since finishing school over three months ago and although initially excited about going to daycare, he was disappointed after the first day. He was asked to lie down and have quiet time while the little ones napped which he didn’t like, that was his main gripe. Thumper, who never used to want to leave daycare in Canada, suddenly developed separation anxiety and screamed from the moment she realised I was leaving her. Overall, it was a bit of a disaster.
Once we realised the exorbitant costs, we immediately pulled the kids out. It was a tough call because the lady had been so accommodating at the last minute. I felt sick at the prospect of having to tell her. I desperately posted on a local Facebook page and among the replies asking confused and repetitive questions about why we don’t get rebates for daycare (we definitely don’t), I had a few people telling me to message them about solutions. One of them, a young mum, turned out to be a real godsend. She agreed to look after the kids three days a week at our place for a reduced rate and another lady is going to look after them the other two at hers, subject to meeting her this weekend. It began to seem like it might just work.
But today when we got home after the first full day leaving them with this lovely mum, we began to doubt that it was going to work. The kids were a nightmare. They didn’t listen, they had meltdown after meltdown, they were rude, disrespectful, aggressive. Thumper refused to nap. Dude refused to turn off the tv. Another disaster ensued. The mum was, frankly, a saint. She pulled out every trick in the book but ultimately the kids were just behaving terribly. She has bravely agreed to continue, but to be honest I can’t see it lasting, unless something changes significantly.
For my part, none of this feels right. I want to be back in Canada and I know we need money to do that, but being with my children feels more important somehow. Gosh it’s hard. I don’t know how we’ve ended up in this situation but I’m going to do everything within my power to fix it.
I’ve never heard this music before but my dad has recommended it and the artist is Italian so it’s fitting. I plug my free Apple earphones into my broken Samsung and hit shuffle. Within moments of hearing the opening bars there are tears in my eyes and for once I’m grateful for my vision being obscured by my child-scratched sunglasses. It’s piano, reminds me a bit of Michael Nyman and I remember the story my friend K told me about him propositioning her one late night in London.
This MA study, it’s hard, in all respects. It may even be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced to date. The work is hard, the commute is long and complicated, and I feel totally conflicted about leaving my kids, neither of whom like being without me.
This music is my soundtrack now. Ludovico Enaudi. If I have another child, I think I’ll call him Ludo. Or maybe that’ll be a good name for a family dog. I won’t forget what this music has done for me. Although damn it, stop with the tears already!
I wrote this on the third day of my first week at uni. I was sitting on the bus at 8:15am having just forced my protesting 13-month-old into the arms of a lovely stranger while I put myself through the torture of a complex class conducted all in Italian. I think in those early days I understood about a quarter of what was said, if that, and what made it worse was that the other three members of the class understood everything.
At this point I’d been to five of my six classes and I was feeling overwhelmed. And to top it off, other than Thumper’s separation anxiety, the Dude was having huge meltdowns about catching the school bus and Mr Chewbacca had just messaged me saying he was almost in tears too at having to take Dude to school against his will because he’d point blank refused to get on the bus.
Looking back, yes, it was hard. But we’ve moved on now. That first week, wow, I’ll never forget it. And I’m glad I wrote this as it reminds me just how easy I have it now in comparison.
So I’ve officially started at uni. My Master’s. I still don’t even know whether to use the possessive form Master’s or not. Because it’s a Master of Arts. Gah. Stupid language. Why am I doing this again?
Anyway, this week has been all about the orientation sessions. I went to one first about the School of Graduate Studies and it was great, so interesting and inspiring. I felt really excited and empowered when I left. I had another look around the library where I’d been once before to get my student card. I went over to the Italian department only to discover that I was referring to an old timetable and this week is just orientation sessions.
I had to leave Thumper at home with daddy which is hard. Normally I handle all sleeps as she is fed to sleep and expressing/bottles is way too much of a headache. She’s one now and I know she can go without a feed the whole day but it’s an easy way to get her down for a nap and I had no idea how Mr C would manage. Luckily he’s resourceful, and by the third day he was into a groove and could get her to sleep easily by standing in the dark and rocking her then putting her down in her cot. I’m pretty sure I’ve found her home daycare nearby, just need to work out how to pay for it! And the Dude begins school on the same day as me. School bus for the first time!
The Italian orientation was okay, a little odd and a little intimidating. Thinking of it now, it reminds me of my first Italian class… oh my god! I was just calculating in my head how many years ago it was now. Seventeen years ago!!! Man, that makes me feel ancient! Anyway, so in 1998 I began a BA that I’d transferred into after a year of a BA (Visual). I enrolled in Italian thinking it seemed like the easiest thing to do as I’d already learnt some in high school. Despite my bad grounding in the language and my inability to speak much, my comprehension was above that of a beginner. I met with the department head, a gorgeous, wonderful woman who spoke Italian to me and quickly established that I should begin at the intermediate level. I was excited until that first class. I remember sitting in the room with a bunch of other students and in walked the lovely department head. Following her was a tall, funky-looking dude wearing 3/4 length shorts, Doc Marten’s, and red, thick-rimmed glasses. He sat on one of the desks at the front and swung his legs while the head introduced herself and welcomed everyone and I assumed he was another student. Then he stood up and introduced himself as the teacher! Suddenly everyone around me was speaking Italian, not just the two professors but all the students! Words, jokes, phrases, casual remarks were flying through the air and it was just all too fast and overwhelming. I had no idea what was going on but I knew one thing: I wanted to start from the beginning.
I don’t regret it, starting from scratch, even though I could have toughed it out at the intermediate level. I was 19 then, I had zero life experience and even less maturity. I would have struggled. Now, sitting in a similar classroom across the other side of the world feeling slightly overwhelmed by the speed at which some people were speaking, and being somewhat taken aback at being asked about my research interests up front, I had a different experience. I put that down to maturity mainly. It was intimidating but not to the point of not wanting to continue.
I think Italian departments must have parallels the world over. There’s always something old-fashioned about Italian. Like no one’s updated their decor since the 70s. And they refer to things as being “in internet” which has this kind of fuddy duddy ring to it, like they are still using dial-up modems. They always make you sign to say you’re present. They have some really specific expectations, pet peeves, odd sort of stubborn requirements. It’s like, “oh this series of talks isn’t compulsory but if you don’t attend it’ll be noticed”.
Suffice it to say, I’ve got six full time courses to get done this term, when a normal full time load is four. Oh and I have a clash between my book history program class and the fundamental pedagogical one for Italian. I don’t think that’s ever happened. Certainly I’m the only one from Italian doing the collaborative program. And I can understand why, six is a lot! So wish me luck. My first official week begins 10am Monday morning and I have no idea what that first class will even be about be a use my Italian isn’t good enough to read up further.
My little girl is one year old. Amazing! How did that go so quickly?
She is the most amazing little girl, really happy and outgoing. She is also loud! And a climber. She is bold and strong and she does everything possible to keep up with her brother.
It’s been such a crazy time since we arrived almost a month ago that we almost forgot about our girl’s first birthday. Every day is shades of the previous day, getting up and getting out of the house as quickly as possible, some days going to Grug’s Sunset, as the Dude calls it (Sunset Grill – he was reading a Grug book when we told him the name of the breakfast place). Other days we just do a quick Tim Horton’s drive-through and head straight to whatever we’ve got on the list – buying stuff, picking stuff up, looking at cars, wandering around shops trying to work out if they have what we want. And then later in the day we might do something for the kids, go to the splash pad or the park or check something out in an area that we haven’t seen. Then there’s dinner. Urgh, the dreaded dinner. We had expected our Aussie stuff to have arrived by this point but it hasn’t (long story, too boring to mention here but I’ll put a footnote for the sake of documentation*) which means we have no dishes or cooking things. So we haven’t really been grocery shopping. Which means we don’t eat dinner at home unless we get takeaway which is Pizza Pizza. Most days we don’t even eat lunch. I take fruit and crackers for the kids, Dude sometimes gets something bought for him if he is hungry after the bits and pieces I take from home, and the little one usually eats most of the fruit during the day. It’s not ideal and it’s expensive. Plus we’re really getting sick of going out to eat. Okay so we could just buy a few things. But why do that when everything we need is about to show up on the doorstep?
So for the little girl’s birthday we decided that we should do something to mark the occasion. She is one so has no idea what’s going on which means we get to decide what to do. We decided to head to Niagara Falls, take some picnic food and have a little cake out there. It’s about an hour from us so a perfect distance to take the kids. And it’s a pretty cool place to go to celebrate your first birthday! The drive was great as we got to see a little bit of the land that we hadn’t seen before. The lake and all that surrounds it is lovely, and I’m appreciating the green that we don’t get much of in Australia. Some strange traffic along the way, seemingly there for no reason, and then on the way back a random car on fire on the side of the road – now the Dude thinks that cars just “go on fire” every time they have a crash!
Niagara itself was busy but fairly easily accessible. And of course amazing, it’s an extraordinary place! I can’t believe the First Nations people don’t consider this a sacred place and there’s no hint of any kind of preservation campaign. Or maybe they do but they’re happy for it to be exploited, what with all the casino type stuff around. It is an amazing natural wonder, it’s almost like being in a dream seeing it up close. It was lost on the kids of course. Bub just wriggled a lot and after waking up properly after her nap on the way over, she was just keen to crawl around which was impossible around the falls themselves as it was big crowds of people, dirty concrete, and just not a good place to crawl. Dude of course demanded an icecream so after getting some great views, snapping some photos, and dodging other tourists, we got an overpriced icecream and walked back in the direction of the green space. Both kids enjoyed just being outside I think. We ate some lunch, followed by cake, and a special first taste of it for Thumper, which she of course loved! The boys “played baseball” – ie. Dude tried to hit the foam-covered ball with his kid-size foam-covered bat and succeeded about fifty per cent of the time. Not bad actually, for a four-year-old who hadn’t heard of baseball until a month or so ago.
It was a lovely day out, beautiful weather, stunning natural wonder. I wish there wasn’t a whole bunch of shops surrounding the falls and the buildings so close, on the other side too. It’s amazing to just look across and think, hey, that’s America just over there! Weird, anyway. But I guess for a European it’s like, um, what’s the big deal? The falls, however, cannot be dismissed. The water just cascades away, it’s incredible, it’s almost too amazing to conceive of, like you can’t take it all in and realise that, yes, you really are looking at this.
We jumped back in our grossly undersized yet awesome Ford Focus hire car and drove home. We did think about going to Niagara on the Lake as well but it would have been a bit much for the kids to make two stops and expect bubs to sleep and/or cope with being awake in the car for an hour without getting restless, given her need to practice walking around holding on to things.
There was the usual discussion about whether we should go to Kesley’s or Jack Astor’s or some other delicious but unaffordable place we’ve been numerous times and are actually quite sick of now. So we decided to try something new. Chinese food, in fact Asian food in general, doesn’t seem to be as prevalent here, or at least it’s not done as well as in Australia from what I can gather. If we were in downtown Toronto, we’d find something cheap and delicious from any part of the globe but here in Oakville it’s a little bit of a backwater. So we took a hint from Google (I had nothing to do with it, as everywhere I’ve suggested so far has been a disaster!) and went to this Chinese place nearby with great reviews. It turned out to be quite swanky and all the servers were dressed in full on traditional dress. Every time they served a particular dish they rang this gong, it was quite cool (and slightly odd). It was a little intimidating going there with the two kids as the atmosphere was very quiet, gentle music playing, everything laid out just so to a high standard, lots of beautiful traditional decorations all around. But the people were nice and didn’t seem put out by us. We ordered some dumplings for the Dude which are not 10 for $7 here like back home, and it was very pleasant, despite the usual trying to commandeer both kids, stop them running around and trashing things. Thumper doesn’t like to sit in a high chair for long, especially if there is no food on offer, so I always bring little snacks while she’s waiting for her meal but inevitably she ends up climbing out of the high chair (or screeching until I undo the belt, if it’s a really good one that she can’t get out of herself – most of them aren’t and she does a Houdini type escape).
Anyway, the food was delicious and the people were very accommodating. Luckily the restaurant wasn’t full, probably because we were there at 5pm, and we managed to get through the meal without totally destroying any possibility of going back again. Near the end, as we drank our coffees, the Dude went off to the toilet for the hundredth time, and Mr Chewbacca and I had a rare few minutes with just Thumper. And then the most amazing thing happened: she walked! On her birthday, she took half a dozen steps to walk from daddy to mummy, just like that. So typical, she’s such a “normal” baby, hitting all the milestones exactly on time and in the way described in the most mundane of parenting manuals. She just did it, and was like, hey, now I can walk! We just looked at each other and laughed, not really believing what we’d just witnessed! She did it once or twice more before the day was done. It really topped off a brilliant day where we were so proud of our girl and momentarily distracted from worrying about the giant task of settling in here in this new place.
*So the story with our stuff: Allied Pickfords told us the expected delivery is between 10 and 12 days after uplift in Melbourne. Then they sent us some form to fill out for Canadian Customs. We couldn’t do that straight away as we were flying across the world and had no access to phones, Internet or printers for ages after we arrived but we thought we had time because it’s a Canadian form. Turns out, no, they wouldn’t even put our stuff on a flight leaving Australia until we’d sent them back the stupid form! And they decided to let us know about this around the time we were expecting our stuff to arrive. Gee thanks. So we did that but it meant our stuff took like 27 days. Yes, it arrived the day after Thumper turned one. Phew!
But it’s one of the most significant photos of my whole life. This was taken on Mother’s Day 2011 sitting on a bench on the coastal clifftop walk in Vaucluse, just up the road from the famous Gap. I look like shit because I am just not photogenic, but also because I am in labour with my son, my first child. I was 32 and had been having six minute apart contractions since 6am that morning. This was taken, well, sometime towards dusk, which is probably about 5:30pm at that time of year in Sydney. My son was born the following evening around 8pm. My life changed forever.
Now, people always say, oh yes, children are a big commitment but also a joy, your life changes forever, bla bla bla. You can’t conceptualise it and you just nod and smile and agree and maybe roll your eyes when they’re not looking. You KNOW your life is going to change. And even after it does, you think you KNOW just what you’re in for. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t. You have no IDEA.
I’m writing this nearly three and a half years later. My second child, a girl, is ten weeks old. I have no IDEA how I got through this morning. It’s freaking hard. It just is, and I make no apologies or excuses. Older, more experienced people have told me how straightforward it was for them, how they just swaddled their perfect little baby and laid it down in its old-fashioned cot with the sides up in a bedroom containing nothing else and it went to sleep for two hours during which they did all the housework and cooked meals for the next year and had a cup of tea and planned out the week. Yeah, great, nice work, good for you. That’s not how it is for mothers today. Well that’s not how it is for me, anyway.
My grandmother on my mother’s side had ten children. Her third child, a boy, died in infancy during the war. I’m not sure why or how. But let’s examine my maternal grandmother’s situation for a moment: she was either pregnant or breastfeeding for 20 years. She was a migrant, with half her children being born in Serbia and Germany and the other five here in Australia. She was poor. She grew most of the family’s food because of this. She had her babies in hospitals but could only stay a night after a birth because her other children needed her at home. My grandfather got up for work at 4am six days a week and was home after the children were in bed. No one but my grandmother cooked and cleaned, she did it all. Her name was Elisabeth and she was a Capricorn who never wanted children and didn’t marry until she was 23, virtually an old maid in 1937.
How did she do it? I have no idea. But I will offer one theory: life was entirely different. There were no computers, they never had a tv or other technology invading their lives. They didn’t even have a washing machine or fridge in the beginning. They ate from their farm and there was a purity of existence that has to be created with much effort these days. Somehow, I don’t know how, this lifestyle made for a gentler, more harmonious life. And babies who didn’t demand feeding 24/7, who wouldn’t sleep for more than a few minutes without being held.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am very much of an attachment parenting mindset and I believe that it’s completely normal for young babies and children to resist sleeping for long periods away from their mothers or carers. It’s basic physiology, part of being human. However. I’m not completely convinced that the reason babies don’t settle, the reason they cry, is due to the lack of attachment. I think there is too much stimulation in life today. Not only does all this distraction take up the time and space a parent might otherwise have had free, it changes the way we relate to each other, and to our children.
I don’t think there’s a solution to this, I think I’ve made a conscious choice to live in this way, and knowing my lifestyle impacts my babies in this way doesn’t make me want to change. I am however willing to continue on a “natural” parenting path as although it is a lot of work, I couldn’t do it any other way. I won’t be doing any kind of sleep training or controlled crying. I won’t be arbitrarily stopping breastfeeding and introducing formula. I won’t be forcing my kids to sleep in their own rooms if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. I won’t be pureeing meals and spoon feeding at some random age determined by some doctor.
I lie here in the dark at 9:30pm trying to slip my nipple out of my baby’s mouth without waking her so I can go back downstairs and watch Breaking Bad and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s just what mothering is for me. And it’ll all be over in the blink of an eye.
Part 1 of this story is here, in case you missed it.
Saturday 23rd August. There was rugby on tv for some reason, as Mr C was cooking dinner, and I felt what I was pretty sure was a contraction. I didn’t have my phone handy to check the time, so I just looked at the time on the clock on tv – 6:30pm. A while later, as we sat down to dinner, I felt the same twinge and looked at the clock on the radio – 6:51pm. 20 minutes. That’s prelabour. We ate one of Mr C’s hearty meals – I think it was stir fry – and the Dude went off to sleep as usual about 7:30 or so. I sat uncomfortably on the couch and downloaded a contraction timing app. When Mr C came back downstairs I told him I was pretty sure contractions were coming regularly and he said I should call the midwife. So about 8:30pm I let her know something was happening and she was glad as we’d already had a discussion about the amount of time hospital would allow to lapse between membrane rupture and birth of baby and the need for antibiotics and neither of us wanted to have to deal with any of that. I wouldn’t have them of course, but it added an element of doom and gloom, just having the discussion, and made me regret again having had that stupid GBS swab back in my first pregnancy. Anyway, my midwife suggested getting to bed as early as possible to try to get some rest before things ramped up, as they are wont to do overnight, and I of course agreed but knew the chances were slim as I’m such a night person.
We watched something on tv, no idea what, and then Mr C kept badgering me about the pool: “Now should I get this pool up or what? I don’t want to be doing it at 2am!” And I kept saying, “yeah, I don’t know, like, I’m definitely having contractions but, yeah, I don’t know, whatever…” Typically vague! Eventually I said okay, blow it up, and he didn’t need to be asked twice. As he moved some furniture around and got the pump out, he kept saying to me, “go upstairs, get some rest, I’ll finish this.” And I kept saying, “okay, yep, after the next contraction I will…” Anyway, I had a few spoonfuls of yoghurt in case this really was ‘it’ and I needed the extra energy, and ended up finally going upstairs at some point around 10:30pm I think. It was bizarre swinging my hips through a contraction as I brushed my teeth but not painful, just weird. Those early sensations are the best, not painful but strong enough to know they’re doing some good work!
I finally lay down, probably past 11pm at this point I’d say, and started reading stuff on my phone, my usual bedtime wind down routine. Ridiculous, as I needed the rest now more than ever, but that’s me. Contractions were becoming pretty uncomfortable and lying down wasn’t helping, although I was tired. I turned off my phone and tried to sleep, and I think I did manage to drift off, but the sensations just got stronger and stronger and less and less bearable. I tried to relax into them and visualise opening and softening and all those good things. I thought about the hypnobirthing idea that labour needn’t be painful and that the pain is a man-made thing. I wondered how this could be the case as the pain got more and more intense and I found it nearly unbearable to continue lying down. The Dude got up and climbed into our bed, which he does most nights at the moment. I finally couldn’t stand to have another contraction lying down so I took my phone, got some clothes on, and went into his room. I couldn’t lie on the bed so I leant over it, kneeling on the ground, trying to rest between sensations. I had maybe three or four like that but I just wasn’t comfortable and I realised I probably wasn’t going to get any more rest, this was it. By this point it was probably about midnight or 12:30ish. I went downstairs. I knew Mr C would hear me and come down when he could once the Dude was back asleep. I kept timing the contractions and some were getting to be really close, five minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds. I realised I had no idea when I would be deemed to be in active labour, and therefore when I should call the midwife. Between sensations I turned the water on, as Mr C had hooked the hose up before coming to bed, and got the pool filling. There was something really awesome about being in labour by myself, just kind of pottering about in the dark of night, stopping to lean over a bench or the back of the couch every few minutes.
Mr C came down I think about 1am and busied himself putting candles around the room. There came a point, I don’t really know when, but soon thereafter, when he just instinctively came over and massaged my lower back as I had a contraction. I got him to press down on my hips and it really helped sort of diffuse the pain. I finally understood what this term ‘applying counter pressure’ meant. He immediately asked if I’d called the midwife and I said no, so he said I think you should and asked me when we are supposed to, like how far apart the contractions should be. It was then that I admitted I had no freaking idea! There were some coming three minutes apart and they were sometimes starting to last a good minute or more. I called our midwife at 1:45am, or rather, I got Mr C to call her, and she asked to speak to me, of course, to see just how full on things really were. I was able to speak, and in fact I remember sort of taking a break to speak to her, like putting the labour on hold for a few minutes while I concentrated on the conversation. I think she and the other two midwives must have arrived about 2:15 or so, not really sure, but by that point I was in the pool and screaming the house down, needing Mr C to lean over and press on my lower back in a really awkward (for him!) way. Thinking back now, I wasn’t at all concerned about the midwives not making it. I think I would have managed just fine if they hadn’t. Anyway, I had this idea that I should try to remain upright in the pool if I could, so I was on my knees leaning over the edge. I wanted to be in the position that would get this baby moving down as quickly and efficiently as possible and this was it, although it was really uncomfortable as I’d have to pull myself up every time a contraction came and I felt my hips coming out of the water which meant I wasn’t getting the benefit of it during the time I needed it and I felt someone, probably the midwife, pushing my pelvis slightly further down so it was submerged, which I knew was important as if baby were to emerge it needs to be totally under the water as the first contact with air will stimulate breathing.
I eventually changed to lying semi-reclining, as I did during the Dude’s birth, although I didn’t sit on the blow up ‘seat’ part, just on the floor of the pool. I liked this because it was deeper, but I didn’t realise until the next day that I’d totally bruised my lower spine doing that as the floor of the pool wasn’t remaining inflated so I was pressing on the floor beneath. The contractions were insanely intense, beyond anything I could ever imagine! I thought later how ironic it was that I’d been so adamant that the pain wasn’t an issue for me, I wasn’t afraid of it and could handle any level of pain, no problem. I wasn’t handling this pain, or at least, I was simply withstanding it and screaming at it and hating it and feeling like it was too much for me. I did ‘handle’ it, in that I managed to get through it, but my god, it was just so far beyond anything I thought could be possible. I wasn’t going to pass out or anything, I just wanted to escape it. I remember when I was still in the upright position I just screamed and kicked my legs and said ‘no, no, no!’ which as I recall was similar to what I did pre pushing stage with the Dude. And the midwives, as my first midwife had done, said, ‘yes, yes, yes’ in response. I knew in my head I had to accept it and I forced myself to visualise opening and relaxing but there were moments at the height of the contraction where I just tried to run from it. It sounds weird, running from something happening inside your own body, but it’s what I did, or tried to do. I kept beginning to say, “I don’t think I can do this…”, shaking my head, and at one point I threw up all over the edge of the pool. I had my eyes closed but I imagined the knowing smiles on the faces of the midwives; aah, transition. I thought a few times about transferring for pain relief, like I wasn’t totally sure I could withstand the intensity. Mr C said later he knew I was thinking about that. Neither of us ever voiced it during labour though and the midwives had no idea that’s what I was thinking.
I felt a shift in the atmosphere and I knew the Dude had woken up and come downstairs. It was about 3am by this point, and I was really in the thick of it, needing Mr C for every contraction, reaching behind to grab his arms as I withstood another wave of intensity and hoped for the ‘pushy’ feeling. Dude wasn’t upset or afraid or even vaguely concerned. I heard him laughing at various points, being read stories, commenting on things, like an old hand, like watching your mum give birth in a pool in your living room in the middle of the night was an everyday occurrence. The funny thing is, a week or so after the birth, I was sitting on the couch with him, which I don’t think had happened before as I was on strict bed rest upstairs, and I asked if I could get up and do something and he said, no, not yet mummy, and grabbed onto my arm. He just wanted me to hold him. So I whispered to him: “Did you miss mummy when I had a baby?” And he must have misunderstood what I was asking because he said: “Yes, mummy, I was really super scared when you having a baby. I was scared you were so loud.” So even though he hadn’t shown it, he obviously was afraid during the birth, and understandably so as I was incredibly loud, much louder than during his birth. I explained that sometimes it takes a really loud noise to get a baby to come out and he didn’t demand anything further and soon let me get up and do what I needed to do.
As I began to get closer to crowning and my body gave those pushes as it had the last time, my midwife bent down and spoke to me about how I should try to go easy during crowning, take it slow, let my body do the work, don’t crazily push hard. I guessed it was because she didn’t want me to tear, but I just said, “I didn’t do that last time”. I wasn’t in the mood to take anything slow at this point, I just wanted the baby out as quickly as possible! I heard what she said and took it on board but I was thinking, screw that, I want this over with! I began pushing on top of the contractions, and I did actually feel baby moving down this time. As I got closer I felt her moving inside me, a really weird and frankly not nice feeling. But I knew it had to happen. As before, I felt like my pushes weren’t doing much and I was pushing against that brick wall again. This time I actually reached down a few times to feel what was happening which was a bit of a mistake as despite the optimistic words and noises of the birth team, my vagina felt exactly as it always does. I couldn’t feel a head or indeed any kind of stretching. Massive disappointment. I questioned just how much longer I could do this, as every contraction was hell but as I began to push on top of them it felt marginally better, like I was getting some relief. I tried my best to keep my sounds low and guttural but it just wasn’t possible all the time, I literally screamed the house down, sometimes sounding like a murder victim from some tacky horror film. Not good birthing noises. But that’s what I did.
I finally felt something when I reached down, although again I was disappointed as it just felt squishy, no hard head, no stretched bits. The midwives had already announced they could see the head and asked for the mirror I was apparently supposed to have in my box of birth stuff. I was like, “oh no, I didn’t get it as I don’t want to see,” and they said, “yes, but it’s for us to see!” Anyway, they of course had one and I think perhaps Mr C got to see things stretching that way, although I didn’t have my eyes open so I have no idea really. I think I opened my eyes maybe twice from the moment the midwives arrived to when she was born. Towards these latter moments I began making this sort of mooing sound between contractions, kind of like keeping the momentum flowing or something. I could hear myself and was thinking, what a bloody awful sound for everyone to have to listen to, but it was working to keep me going so I went with it.
The head was doing what the Dude’s head did, starting to crown and then going back in again. I think it probably happened about three or four times before I managed to hold it there while I breathed between contractions and then I pushed like crazy and out she came. I think I heard the midwife begin to say I should take a breather and bring out the body on the next contraction but I don’t think I did that, I just needed her out!
“And welcome back, Kat,” said my midwife as her body emerged and I immediately snapped out of birthing and back into consciousness again. I felt how quickly it happened, I didn’t lie back and rest or anything, I just reached for my baby and as before helped the midwife unwind the cord which I think was a couple of times around her neck, I can’t remember. She had the same Apgars as the Dude, 9 and 9, and she began crying, clearing out all the fluid and mucus. I can’t express the sense of relief I had at getting that baby out. 4:25am, so more or less a five-hour labour, three hours active really. So fast! Thank goodness! Within minutes of beginning to breathe, she began sucking on her hands and rooting around for the breast. This little girl had a perfectly round little head, no cone head moulding like the poor Dude had after his spinning around during labour. She was going to be a happier baby.
I glanced into the water in front of me and saw this sudden cloud of red blood billowing out around me. I wondered if it would have been a gush, had I been on land. The midwives were keeping an eye on things and certainly hadn’t missed the loss of blood. We had a few minutes of oohing and aahing and kissing and smiling and coughing and spluttering from baby before my midwife suggested I get out of the pool as she didn’t like the look of the amount of blood I was losing while waiting for the placenta. I had a couple of mild contractions in the pool I think, and I was soon out and lying on the couch. I just let my midwives get on with things and look after my bleeding as I couldn’t feel it and didn’t feel any different at that point. It wasn’t long before the placenta arrived, perhaps 20 minutes or so, much faster than the hour it took for the Dude’s to come out. I guess perhaps my body knew it had no time to waste and I couldn’t afford to lose much more blood. Dude and Mr C cut the cord together which was kind of cool, although I’m sure Dude just liked the idea of getting to use scissors!
My midwife told me that as soon as the placenta emerged, the bleeding stopped, which is just what should happen of course. But overall I’d lost in the region of 800ml, which, when you consider I lost only 400 last time and anything over 500 is considered a haemorrhage, it certainly wasn’t anything to write off. I knew I’d be okay of course, but still, it’s a little disconcerting realising you’ve suddenly lost almost a quarter of the blood in your body! I knew I was pale and beginning to feel a bit odd, although I wasn’t dizzy or anything and there was no chance of fainting. I did feel a bit out of it though, and found it hard to concentrate on what my midwife was saying for a while there. The crazy thing was that no one offered me food, and I didn’t think to ask as I was out of it and concentrating on baby and what was happening moment by moment. Eventually, when baby had fed well and passed out happily, and my midwife checked to see about tears. She mentioned she’d seen my scar tissue stretch when the head emerged, but I was puzzled. “What scar tissue?” I asked. “Oh, you know, where you tore last time,” she said. But as far as I was aware I had no tears or grazes last time. When she checked she could see the ‘old’ scar and after initially declaring no tearing, she looked again and discovered a first degree tear and labial graze. I realised that I must have torn last time but it wasn’t picked up. I was pleasantly surprised that even my first wee wasn’t really that painful, nowhere near what it was the last time when I had to get in the shower every time I needed to go to the toilet. Apart from that funny feeling of having no muscles in your general pubic area, I felt really good physically. But I was pretty depleted. I eventually got someone to make me some Vegemite toast (without butter, what the hell?!) and drank juice and despite a bit of hesitation from the midwives, I decided I could make it up the stairs to bed. It was a slow ascent and I was shocked by how short of breath I was – my first real experience of iron deficiency I think.
But it was done. She was here. 24 August 2014, 4:25am. 3.935kg, 54cm. Clementine Elizabeth. Or ‘Mole’, as we’ve dubbed her, due to her distinct lack of hair on her little round head and her snuffly head bobbing as she roots around for boobie. I love her. I finally understand how it is to feel that strong bond with your baby instantly, to love breastfeeding, despite oversupply and engorgement and vomit and poo and night waking. I definitely don’t want to have any more children at this stage, I’m grateful to have these two, a boy and girl, and I just can’t wait to see who she becomes.
I’m publishing this in two parts because it’s hellishly long, as most stuff I write is, and I wanted to split it into the ‘build up’ and the ‘real deal’.
I’d been fairly casual about the planning for this birth, in typical fashion. There was no question I’d be having the baby at home, as I did the Dude, and although we’d only recently moved to Melbourne, I’d made it my business to get an independent midwife sorted out quickly. I ended up swapping to a different midwifery practice at 32 weeks as the midwife who was meant to be my primary announced she was stopping practice and while she could still come to my birth, all pre and post natal care would need to be handed to another midwife at the practice. I’d already been less than satisfied with a few other goings on at that practice, being asked odd questions and having to have appointments with different midwives when really I just wanted one-on-one care, so I decided to swap to the midwife I’d originally met back when I was about 14 weeks.
I felt well, better than I had with the Dude, and it was only at about 38 weeks that I noticed a bit of swelling round my ankles which didn’t surprise me as I’d had it for the whole third trimester in my first pregnancy and I’d been under a bit of stress, trying to get things done before baby arrived and forgetting to take my supplements. I was starting to feel heavy, and baby felt very low and dug into my cervix regularly. But I had no Braxton Hicks that I could feel and I began to think about when this baby might arrive. Previously, my water had broken on the dot of 39 weeks, at about 1:30am, and then I had no contractions for 28 hours. I’d always considered this to be partly the way my body worked (my mum had the same thing with me) and partly because my boy was so keen to come. I expected this second labour to be faster and a bit more ‘normal’, not your typical long first labour which mine was, more or less, apart from the premature membrane rupture.
As things started to wind down and we did our dry run with the birth pool, I realised I really needed this baby to wait a bit longer than 39 weeks. Dude had come down with a really nasty virus that was turning into a horrible cough and just going on and on, so I was looking after him and not even thinking about giving birth. It just so happened that Mr Chewbacca’s contract at work was due to finish on 29 August (four days after 40 weeks for me), the third intern midwife who I’d invited to the birth to help with the Dude was going to be away between 25 and 30 August, and my favourite ABA group meeting was scheduled for 27 August. I wrote all these things on the calender and suddenly realised I was pretty sure this baby would wait until after the 30th to be born. I was predicting either the 31st or 1st September. I even wrote a post about it on one of the online groups I’m regularly on, the morning of 22 August:
A question about timing and mummy instinct: much of this pregnancy I’ve thought there’s a good chance baby will come at 39 weeks like my first. But just in the last couple of weeks I’ve come to this realisation that baby will wait until we are ready. There are a few things happening that would mean baby arriving any time in the next week would be a bit inconvenient – husband’s contract at work finishes on the 29th, toddler is still recovering from a bad bout of the flu, extra assisting midwife isn’t available until after the 30th…
Now at 39 weeks (depending on the calculation my guess date is somewhere between 25 and 28 Aug), I have this strong feeling that baby will stay put and most likely arrive about the 31st/1st. Aside from a hard head pressing on my pubic bones and cervix, I’m really not feeling uncomfortable or over it, not wanting to ‘make’ anything happen, but I was more wondering about this sudden confidence I have about when baby will arrive. Has anyone got any stories to share about ‘knowing’ when baby will come? It feels so at odds with my logical understanding that babies come when ready and I have no real say in it, more just about practising surrender and faith. But I feel so clear about this, I just know baby is waiting until we’re ready, husband can focus on us, toddler doesn’t need me 24/7… Thoughts?? I’d love anyone’s stories around this.
And then the next morning:
Well. So much for ‘knowing’ bub is staying put for another week! I woke about 1:30am after some fitful dreams (refusing to wake up I think!) about my membranes rupturing but trying to deny it, only to feel a ‘leak’! I got up to go to the toilet, felt more wet, soaked through my pyjama pants… The ol’ bladder can be a bit dodgy these days but I’m pretty sure it was amniotic fluid. I shoved a bunch of toilet paper in a new pair of undies, lay back down, realised I was an idiot not to use one of the many maternity pads on hand (conventionally located all the way downstairs of course) and I felt shaky, massive adrenaline, exactly like my first labour. Got a pad, took some emergency essence, back into bed. Oh no, I didn’t want her to come yet, just one more week please! Felt some ‘tightenings’, eventually drifted back off to sleep after explaining what was possibly happening to husband, who’d been getting our three year old back to sleep while I leaked… Nothing happening this morning, again, same as last time… Am I going to have a baby tonight?!
Thinking back now, I realise there was no way baby was waiting. Although the membrane rupture was not a big gush like the first time, it was clear it was a leak and I was getting ready to have a baby. Mr C and I just looked at each other in disbelief: now, really?! And then he said something to seal the deal: “Well, if she’s going to come, she better come TONIGHT or stay in for another week!” I didn’t say anything because I was still in denial but I knew that he’d just given our girl permission to come on out. We randomly decided that if this was going to be ‘it’, we should do something productive. And you can’t get much more productive than going to a shopping centre and buying an electric kettle! We ate a big meal at Schnitz, followed by icecream, and spent an hour with Dude in the Target play area. I had to walk so slowly, leaking the whole time, it was almost comical actually. Last time I hadn’t had this heavy head in my pelvis as Dude began labour in a breech position and turned sometime during the 38 hours of contractions that followed, so I’d been a lot more comfortable walking around.
We got home mid afternoon sometime and I just wanted to rest. We tested out our new kettle only to decide immediately to return it as it beeped really loudly. I began to get emotional. Our neighbours began to play their usual loud Arabic-style music which has this throbbing, incessant beat, and I began to feel desperate. This was my worst nightmare. I tried to hold back tears as I sat on the couch with the Dude. I felt what I thought might have been a contraction but wasn’t sure. What do contractions feel like again? Period pain? But I don’t get period pain. I felt this internal dilemma, like I knew I needed to accept that this baby was coming but I just couldn’t bring myself to that point yet, nothing was going right. I cried in Mr C’s arms, in the Dude’s arms. “It’s okay mummy, don’t cry,” he said, and patted my head.